book: Conviction (2019) by Denise Mina

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One morning Anna’s husband Hamish arrives at the breakfast table with a suitcase and the announcement that he’s leaving her for her best friend Estelle and taking the kids with him. After their departure, in desperation to get her mind off her grief and fury, Anna carries on listening to the true-crime podcast serial she’d just started, about a triple murder on a yacht in the Bay of Biscay. The case is of especial interest to her since one of the victims was an old acquaintance of hers.

She carries on listening after Estelle’s husband, faded anorexic rock star Fin, arrives on her doorstep seeking some kind of companionship in misery, and even while they travel by car toward the north of Scotland (the Black Isle, where my own family originated). Somehow between the two of them they hatch the idea of trying to solve the old murder case . . .

It took me a little while to realize what Conviction reminded me so strongly of, and then I realized that what I was reading was in effect a 21st-century John Buchan novel. Although the quest eventually takes Anna and Fin far and wide — to Continue reading

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book: Ghostwalk (2007) by Rebecca Stott

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A modern-day mystery rooted in the history of science — specifically in Isaac Newton’s Cambridge career, with the emphasis on his alchemical researches? Oh, yes. As you can imagine, this book had sold itself to me before I was halfway through the blurb’s first paragraph.

And I wasn’t to be disappointed. To be sure, Continue reading

book: The Last Weynfeldt (2008; trans 2016 Steph Morris) by Martin Suter

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In Zurich Adrian Weynfeldt lives a largely solitary life. Possessed of enormous inherited wealth and paid healthily for his work as an art appraiser for a major auction house, he has acquaintances rather than friends, and almost all of those acquaintances are essentially spongers, tolerating his presence because of the ungrumbling way he subsidizes their activities.

Into his life stumbles Lorena, a petty thief and occasional model who happens strongly to resemble Adrian’s long-lost love, Daphne. When Lorena realizes how ripe a fruit Adrian is for the plucking, she conspires with her criminal boyfriend Pedroni to Continue reading

Homicide for Three (1948)

vt An Interrupted Honeymoon; vt Whispers in the Dark
US / 60 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: George Blair Assoc Pr: Stephen Auer Scr: Bradbury Foote, Albert DeMond Story: A Puzzle for Puppets (1944) by Patrick Quentin Cine: John MacBurnie Cast: Audrey Long, Warren Douglas, Grant Withers, Lloyd Corrigan, Stephanie Bachelor, George Lynn, Tala Birell, Benny Baker, Joseph Crehan, Sid Tomack, Dick Elliott, Eddie Dunn, John Newland, Billy Curtis, Patsy Moran.

It’s a very long time since last I read Patrick Quentin’s A Puzzle for Puppets (1944), but as I recall it was a perfectly respectable little mystery novel. Unfortunately the geniuses at Republic chose to adapt it as a comedy mystery. The result is something that’s undoubtedly (mildly) entertaining throughout but that hardly satisfies someone in need of a Quentin/Duluths fix.

A year ago Peter (Douglas) and Iris Duluth (Long) married, but Peter was called off to naval service before they could spend their wedding night together. Now he’s been given a 36-hour furlough and the Duluths are combing LA for a hotel room for consummation purposes—a room that’s hard to find because there’s a convention in town.

Audrey Long as Iris Duluth.

They finally get a billet at the ultra-swanky Sherwood Hotel because a guest there, Mrs. Rose (Bachelor), better known in the circus world as Madame Collette, lends them Continue reading

book: The Collector (2006; trans 2015 Sophie Weiner) by Anne-Laure Thiéblemont

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In Paris, Marion Spicer is a youngish investigator working within the art-marketing world to help track down stolen art and authenticate (or otherwise) items that have been offered to the major auctioneers for sale. What she hasn’t realized until now is that her long-estranged father took on a new name and became the legendary collector of pre-Colombian artifacts Edmond Magni — such a titan of the art-collecting world that the mere presence of an item in his vast trove is enough to persuade the curators of the Louvre and other museums of its artistic and archaeological value.

More than that, Magni has just died, and he’s left his collection, worth many millions, to Marion . . . on the seemingly quite irrational condition that she can track down and buy back three specific sculptures that he sold. Otherwise the (incomplete) collection goes to his longtime assistant, the creepy Gaudin.

With luck, that condition of Magni’s bequest won’t prove to be a death warrant for Marion . . . Continue reading

Once a Thief (1935)

UK / 67 minutes / bw / Ambassador Dir: George Pearson Pr: Anthony Havelock-Allan Scr: Basil Mason Story: Robert William Dargavel Cine: Francis Carver Cast: John Stuart, Derek Gorst, Frederick Culley, Nancy Burne, Lewis Shaw, Lola Duncan, Joan Kemp-Welsh, Ronald Shiner.

An enjoyable little filler that has a noirish situation at its core even though the only crime involved is distinctly white-collar in nature.

Chemist Roger Drummond (Stuart) returns to London from South Africa with the secret formula for a more efficient paint spray in his pocket alongside almost no money. The evening before a job interview he’s been offered by George Marston (Gorst), manager of leading paint manufacturer Chirwin’s, he encounters a young woman, Marion Ashley (Burne), who’s been taken ill at the wheel of her car. While Roger runs to fetch a doctor, two cops turn up and drive Marion safely home.

John Stuart as Roger.

Roger discovers he thoughtlessly pocketed Marion’s purse when she dropped it. Although he feels guilty, he borrows a few pounds from it to buy himself a new suit for the interview. The job gained, he pops the purse in the mail to the Lost Property Department at Scotland Yard, having replaced the “borrowed” money but little realizing that Continue reading

book: The 6:41 to Paris (2013; trans 2015 Alison Anderson) by Jean-Philippe Blondel

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A short novel with a very simple fundamental premise; what makes it so appealing — compulsive reading, indeed — is the execution.

Early on the Monday morning following a weekend spent looking after her aged parents, 47-year-old Cecile Duffaut boards the commuter train to Paris. Even though the train’s fairly crowded, the seat next to her remains empty — at least until the last moment, when a late boarder plonks himself down beside her. To her horror Cecile recognizes Continue reading

book: The Day is Dark (2008; trans 2011 Philip Roughton) by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

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Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s series character, Icelandic lawyer Þóra Guðmundsdóttir, is roped in by her banker boyfriend Matthew to go with him and a group of others to a remote mining site in Greenland to investigate, for insurance purposes, a series of odd and possibly murderous events there. The visitors soon find that hostile weather and sabotaged communications equipment make them virtual prisoners, and matters aren’t helped by the fact that almost all of the Greenlanders who live in the nearby settlement refuse even to acknowledge their existence. The site, according to the locals, has been erected on an area of cursed land where once there was a village whose inhabitants all died in mysterious circumstances in the early twentieth century.

There are mysteries of the present, too. Why are there old human bones in so many of the site offices’ desk drawers? What’s happened to Continue reading

The True Story of Lynn Stuart (1958)

vt The Grasshopper; vt The Other Life of Lynn Stuart
US / 78 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Lewis Seiler Pr: Bryan Foy Scr: John H. Kneubuhl Story: newspaper articles by Pat Michaels Cine: Burnett Guffey Cast: Betsy Palmer, Jack Lord, Barry Atwater, Edmund G. Brown, Kim Spalding, Karl Lukas, Casey Walters, Harry Jackson, Claudia Bryar, John Anderson, Rita Duncan, Lee Farr, Louis Towers, Carter James Maloney, Carlos Romero, Artie Lewis, Gavin MacLeod, Madeline O’Donnell, Betsy Jones Moreland, Than Wyenn, Snub Pollard.

Despite the title, and despite the claims in the opening address delivered by California’s Attorney General at the time, Edmund G. Brown, this movie is at best loosely based on reality. There really was a woman who, under the moniker “Lynn Stuart,” infiltrated California’s narcotics gangs, but most of the details of the story have been changed for the purposes of the screen. Contrary to what you might expect, the real-life “Lynn Stuart,” who served as a consultant during the making of this movie, was actually far braver and more dogged than her fictional counterpart: she risked her life as a police informant among the gangsters for six long years.

Betsy Palmer as Phyllis/”Lynn”

When the teenage son of Nora (Bryar) dies in a drug-related incident, Nora’s sister, Phyllis Carter (Palmer), is spurred into offering her services to the Santa Ana PD as an undercover agent to bring down the drug gangs—or some of the gangsters, at least. At first Lieutenant Jim Hagan (Atwater) and his sidekicks treat the offer as a joke; Continue reading

The Drop (2014)

US / 107 minutes / color / Chernin, Big Screen, Ingenious, TSG, Fox Searchlight Dir: Michaël R. Roskam Pr: Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping Scr: Dennis Lehane Story: “Animal Rescue” (2009 in Boston Noir, edited by Dennis Lehane) by Dennis Lehane Cine: Nicolas Karakatsanis Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, John Ortiz, Ann Dowd, Michael Aronov, James Frecheville, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Tobias Segal, Michael Esper, Morgan Spector.

Scripted by Dennis Lehane on the basis of a story by Dennis Lehane first published in an anthology edited by Dennis Lehane (one of the celebrated Placename Noir series published by Akashic), this highly impressive slice of neonoir has, well, Dennis Lehane all over it.

Noomi Rapace as Nadia and Tom Hardy as Bob.

Brooklyn bar tender Bob Saginowski (Hardy) works in a drop bar, so-called because the local mobsters choose a different bar at random every night for receipt of their nefarious takings from all over, figuring that this way the cops are less likely to figure out where the money’s being collected. The bar where Bob works is managed by his much older cousin Marv Sliper (Gandolfini), who lives with Continue reading